Introduction: We continue to study one of the earthquakes of Divine judgment in the Bible: That moment in history when the full cup of judgment on the nation of Israel was poured out, culminating with the sacking of Jerusalem under the Romans in AD 70. Written less than 10 years before that destruction, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16’s picture of the Jews’ “filling up their cup of sins” offers us several lessons on the nature of God’s judgment – especially underlining for us the vast amount of Divine patience in which it is exercised. Let us therefore appreciate how God deals with long-standing sin over vast eras of time: with vast amounts of patience!

Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Romans 10:21. If we want to appreciate the long-suffering of God in the face of centuries of sin we must study what Paul says about this Divine patience in Romans 10:21, where Paul pictures God holding His hands out “all day long” in pleading with Israel to repent. Professor John Murray’s words on this verse movingly reminds us of what such outstretched arms mean about God’s love as well as patience:

The aggravated character of Israel’s disobedience is made apparent by the terms used to express God’s longsuffering and loving-kindness: “All the day long did I stretch out my hands.” It is a picture of the “everlasting arms” spread open in unwearied love.

Meditate and Pray: O God whose arms are outstretched in unwearied love to those who wander away and deny their calling as your covenant people, please give us grace not to grow weary in stretching out our arms in loving appeal to our wayward brothers and sisters, urging them to be reconciled to you. Amen.

Use hymn # 556 in our Trinity Hymnal to express your appealing prayer for those estranged from God:

Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they be red like crimson,
They shall be as wool!
Though your sins be as scarlet,
Though your sins be as scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow,
They shall be as white as snow.
Hear the voice that entreats you,
O return ye unto God!
Hear the voice that entreats you,
O return ye unto God!
He is of great compassion,
And of wondrous love;
Hear the voice that entreats you,
Hear the voice that entreats you,
O return ye unto God!
O return ye unto God!

Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Genesis 15:2-3 & 15:9-11. God’s patience towards His people corporately is confirmed by His patience towards believers individually. For example, when Abraham murmurs against God, complaining bitterly in Gen. 15:2-3 that God has given Him “nothing” (since he lacks the son God had promised), God patiently responds by giving him a sign to strengthen his wavering faith. What was that sign? It was a visual death-pledge, in Gen. 15:9-11 & 15:17, in which sacrificial animals were cut in half. O Palmer Robertson explains the significance of this animal splitting: By dividing the animals and passing between the pieces, participants in a covenant pledged themselves to life and death. These actions established an oath of self-malediction (i.e. curse). If they should break the commitment involved in the covenant, they were asking that their own bodies be torn in pieces just as the animals had been divided.

Meditate and Pray: Clearly this was a serious, bloody oath, binding to death whoever broke the covenant. But who binds Himself to die? It is God alone in Genesis 15:12-18 who walks between the pieces, symbolized by the blazing torch of His presence. Thank God that He alone volunteers to take upon Himself the full curse of our covenant-breaking! If this is the length to which God goes to preserve Abraham and his family, are we surprised to see God show centuries of patience towards Abraham’s physical descendants, the Jews? “Lord, grant us that same level of patience towards each other in our covenant communion as a church family!” Amen.

Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Genesis 15:12-17. There is always a cost to be paid for Divine patience. Not only would the Son of God one day bear the price for the Father’s patiently “leaving the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Rom. 3:25): Even God’s own people would endure 400 years in Egypt (Gen. 15:13, 16) precisely because God patiently allowed the current tenants of the Promised Land (the Amorites, Gen. 15:16) 400 years in which to fill up the cup of their willful sin! Only then would God’s people come out of Egypt to inherit the Promised Land! They would suffer in Egypt while the Amorites prospered in sin!

Meditate and Pray: Ask God to give you grace to submit to His Divine permission of evil, and to wait His time for dealing with the high-handed sins of men – even if we suffer while God appears to tarry. After all – does not Peter tell us we ought not be surprised at such fiery trials? He writes in 1 Peter 4:12-13:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.

Thursday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Genesis 15:12-17. Undoubtedly it was daunting for Abraham and it is daunting for us to realize how we will suffer in this world. Precisely because God allows wicked men to prosper under His patient but wise rule, we can be sure that at times we will suffer at their hands and under their ungodly world-system. When such wicked men say, “God has forgotten; He covers His face and never sees” (Psalm 10:11), it is because they think their wicked ways will go on forever. But they forget a second purpose behind God’s long-suffering, namely, the sanctifying effect of chastisement on the godly. In other words, while the Amorites were living it up in sin in Abram’s day (and the Jews likewise sinned with impunity in the days of Jesus and Paul), God was actually storing up not only their ruin, but also many blessings which would come to His people precisely when they were suffering! The very same days of unfettered evil were at the same time beneficial days of testing and instruction for God’s own in their trials! Marvelous!

Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His purposes in letting the wicked have enough rope to hang themselves while at the same time working patience and character into His own through the very trials which the wicked cause! Use hymn # 74:

God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
All we can do is nothing worth
Unless God blesses the deed;
Vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
Till God gives life to the seed;
Yet near and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.

Fri/Sat/Sun: read Jeremiah 34:7-20, Romans 8:3 & 10:1-4. We began this week by looking at God’s patience with Abraham as a picture of His patience with His chosen people. Sadly, Israel abused God’s long-suffering, as Romans 10:21 proves. Israel continued to be “disobedient and obstinate” and refused to submit to God’s way of righteousness as they trusted in their own sinful works instead. Because they refused to follow His testimony as to where true righteousness could be found, God announced through His prophet Jeremiah that their judgment drew near. 1400 years after the first covenant ceremony where God gave to Abraham the sign of cutting sacrificial animals in half, God declares in Jeremiah 34:20 that His people who have not kept the covenant would become “meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.” This is covenant curse indeed – coming upon all those who seek to establish their own righteousness through the Law instead of trusting in the free gift of righteousness in Jesus Christ!

But wait! Did we not see God take upon Himself the full curse of covenant-breaking in our notes earlier this week? Why then is Israel condemned? Israel’s condemnation comes from their carnal and self-righteous efforts to perform in Jeremiah’s day the very same covenant ceremony which God performed in Abraham’s – but for a far different purpose. Look at Jeremiah 34:10-11. Israel sought through self-effort to appear righteous in releasing their slaves. But in their own strength they could not keep the covenant and took back their slaves in Jeremiah 34:11. In New Testament terms, they refused to humble themselves under what God had said about the depravity of their own sinful nature and tried to use the Law to establish their own righteousness – even though that Law was so “weakened by the sinful nature” (Rom. 8:3) as to be unusable for their salvation!

No wonder Paul sums up all the reasons why Israel came under God’s wrath in Romans 10:1-4 by stressing that they “refused to submit to God’s righteousness.” They continually presumed to stand on their own righteousness, contented themselves with outward holiness and outward covenant ceremonies and refused to come to God for free, forgiving (and life-transforming!) grace.

Meditate and Pray: Lord, please do that great inward work of purifying faith whereby “…out of the treasury” of hearts saved by grace we might “bring forth good things,” (Matt. 12:33). Save us from hypocrisy which seeks to justify itself. Save us from the condemnation of Jesus which He uttered on His own people in Matt. 23:25-27:

“Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.”

Use hymn # 496 in our Trinity Hymnal to confess our tendency towards hypocrisy and of being satisfied with less than the inward, humbling, purifying work of real faith:

Kind and merciful God, we have sinned in Your sight,
We have all wandered far from Your way;
We have followed desire, we have failed to aspire
To the virtue we ought to display.

Kind and merciful God, we’ve neglected Your Word
And the truth that would guide us aright;
We have lived in the shade of the dark we have made,
When you willed us to walk in the light.

Kind and merciful God, we have broken Your laws
And in conduct have veered from the norm;
We have dreamed of the good, but the good that we could
We have frequently failed to perform.

Kind and merciful God in Christ’s death on the cross
You provided a cleansing from sin;
Speak the words that forgive that hence-forth we may live

By the might of your Spirit within.